St. Patrick’s Day — John O’Donohue on Beauty and the Celtic imagination

rainbow

Images of Ireland and quotes from John O’Donohue’s book, “Beauty, The Invisible Embrace.”

“When we experience the Beautiful, there is a sense of homecoming.”

 

Ireland 2

“When the imagination is alive, the life remains youthful.”

“Beauty calls us beyond ourselves and it encourages us to engage the dream that dwells in the soul.”

coastal road

“We feel most alive in the presence of the Beautiful for it meets the needs of our soul.”

“The imagination creates a pathway of reverence for the visitations of beauty.”

Skellig stairs

“With swift, sheer grace, the Beautiful is like a divine breath that blows the heart open.”

“Beauty is quietly woven through our days.”houses and green hills

“The imagination is the great friend of possibility…In a sense, that is what beauty is: possibility that enlarges and delights the heart.”

“Beauty does not linger, it only visits.”

Cliffs of Mohr

“To experience beauty is to have your life enlarged.”

“When the soul is alive to beauty, we begin to see life in a fresh and vital way.”

Ireland 3

“The earth is full of thresholds where beauty awaits the wonder of our gaze.”

“Ultimate beauty is a profound illumination of presence, a stirring of the invisible in visible form.”

connemara

“When we awaken to the call of Beauty, we become aware of new ways of being in the world.”

“The eye of the imagination will often be drawn to the edges of things where the visible and invisible worlds coalesce.”

lighthouse stars

“True beauty is from elsewhere, a pure gift.”

“Everywhere there is tenderness, care and kindness, there is beauty.”

window kettle flowers

“Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue was a native Irish speaker, a former priest, and author of books that provided sustenance for many souls hungering for connection.” (www.npr.org)

clover key

(Images from Pinterest)

Mother’s Day — and the story behind my story

Some thoughts and lovely vintage images for Mother’s Day from Pinterest:

“A mother is the one who fills your heart in the first place.” – Amy Tan

MD 4

“Mothers and their children are in a category all their own. There’s no bond so strong in the entire world. No love so instantaneous and forgiving.”  – Gail Tsukiyama

mother daughters

MD 6

“I am sure that if the mothers of various nations could meet, there would be no more wars.”  – E.M. Forster

mother baby porch

“A mother’s love for her child is like nothing else in the world. It knows no law, no pity, it dates all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in its path.” – Agatha Christie

mother fishing

“I will look after you and I will look after anybody you say needs to be looked after, any way you say. I am here. I brought my whole self to you. I am your mother.” – Maya Angelou

MD 2

“Because even if the whole world was throwing rocks at you, if you had your mother at your back, you’d be okay. Some deep-rooted part of you would know you were loved. That you deserved to be loved.” ―Jojo Moyes

mother teaching

Mother and kids

“But behind all your stories is your mother’s story, for hers is where yours begins.” – Mitch Albom

This last quote really resonates with me. Our mom’s “story” became our story: Life is an adventure to be celebrated. You go forth into the world, against the odds, and spread your wings, and follow your dreams. Her story was to live life fully — to do good where you can, to love and protect others — especially children, to laugh often, to remain curious and to read widely, and to always do good where you can. To smile through adversity, and take delight in the small beauties of every day.  All this was taught to us by example and was embedded in the details of her life. I tried to capture my mom’s story in my first book, The Dreams of Youth.  It is the story behind my story.

Amazon Link: http://a.co/8WKiB33

dreamsofyouth_kindle_hi

Flowering doorways

 

door 11

There’s something about a flowering doorway that moves the heart, that speaks of beauty and happiness.

It greets those who enter by framing them with fragrance, color, and loveliness,

and when leaving the abode, it provides a way of welcoming the day, a portal to pass through sure to initiate optimism and joy.

And if you are simply passing by, it offers a wish for happiness —

 

a silent act of generosity that bestows the gift of beauty and enriches the viewers, who, if their hearts are open, will carry the sweetness with them.

door 10

(all images from Pinterest)

Spring on Kate’s farm (the Christmastime novels)

Though most of the scenes in the Christmastime series (WWII stories of love and family that take place on the home front) occur in the month of December, there are a few flashbacks to spring, summer, and fall. The final book in the series, Christmastime 1945: A Love Story, will have two scenes that take place in the previous spring.

I often imagine what the rural scenes might look like — sometimes drawing on the memories of growing up in small-town Illinois. (A few years ago I took the photo below of a farm outside of town. The tractor had plowed all around the dilapidated house, leaving the poignant patch of history.)

worn farmhouse

Other times I search for images on Pinterest that to help set the rural tone — a few early spring flowers that bloom along the fences and in the meadow,

or signs of spring in the barnyard and nearby trees.

And always, I imagine the interior scenes that take place with Kate and her daughters,  Ursula and Jessica —

warming up with a cup of tea in the farmhouse kitchen, a blanket reached for against the chill spring nights, a few notes plucked on the piano, the comforts of a hot bath and lavender-scented sheets after a long, hard day.

Life on the farm was hard, especially during the WWII years, but Kate and her daughters made sure to enrich their day-to-day living with small beauties and the comforts of home.

Amzaon Link: http://a.co/bZvcQIt

To be released later this year: Christmastime 1939: a prequel to the Christmastime series and Christmastime 1945: A Love Story.

 

In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lion

 

snow 2

March came in like a lion, roaring and pouncing upon us with several snowstorms. After yesterday’s March Nor’easter #4, the world this morning appeared soft and white, with the fences and tree branches outlined in snow.

snow 5

 

Some of the trees looked like cotton bushes — fluffy white, and light as air. As if you could pluck a bunch of snow, stretch it thin, and spin it into cloth.

 

 

And yet — once spring has officially arrived, and April is close at hand, no one wants to hear about how beautiful the snow is. They’re ready for color and a bit of warmth, for signs of growth in the garden, and the first touch of green on the trees.

snow crocuses

I’ve found a hint of spring in my garden in the small cluster of crocuses and a few green spears of hyacinth leaves — a welcome sight. All it takes is a bit of color to assure us of the promise of spring.

snow blossoms 2

 

Saint Patrick’s Day thoughts

inner 2May you have warm words on a cold evening,
A full moon on a dark night,
And the road downhill all the way to your door.

 

woods
If there is a way into the wood, there is also a way out.

 

Ireland church

May God look down and bless you.
May you look up and give thanks.

 

moonlit walk crop

“Yes. I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.” – Oscar Wilde

 

green door

‘Tis afterwards that everything is understood.

 

Irish landscape

“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall.” – Oliver Goldsmith

 

rainbow crop

Be happy with what you have and you will have plenty to be happy about.

 

shamrocks

The Shakespeare Garden in Central Park

SG fence and flowers

Central Park is full of many beautiful places, but for tranquility and loveliness, the Shakespeare Garden is the place to go. It’s located near the Delacorte Theatre where the Shakespeare in the Park series is held every summer. Much of the interest in the sloping four-acre garden comes from the winding stone paths and rustic wooden benches and fences than run through the garden. At the foot of the hill is the Swedish Marionette Theatre, and at the top, the Belvedere Castle. Nestled between is the intimate Shakespeare Garden.

Shakesphere_Gardens_-_Central_Park_NYC_-_panoramio

“What had formerly been known as the Garden of the Heart was, in 1916, renamed the Shakespeare Garden to mark the 300th anniversary of the William Shakespeare’s death.” (centralpark.org)

Plaque SG

The garden is beautiful at all times of year. In the spring, brightly colored bulb flowers line the fences, and surround the Swedish Marionette Theatre.

The fall and winter have their own seasonal beauty. I used the Shakespeare Garden for a scene in Christmastime 1942, where Edith and her Shakespearean actor, Desmond Burke, stroll through the snowy garden.

But the garden is at its most glorious in summer, when it matures into full bloom. In mid-August the lush green of the garden is crowded with purple and white phlox, pink roses, yellow daisies, white lilies, and purple cone flowers.

Thistles, ivy, vines, and herbs also bloom, and there are several trees that cast their shade over the benches and paths. The heat releases the garden’s scents, both sweet and pungent, and the air is alive with bees and butterflies in search of summer sweetness.

Away from the sounds of traffic, and with its sundial and bronze plaques with quotes from Shakespeare, it’s easy to imagine stepping out of time, and into a much older garden. The perfect place to read a book, or have a quiet conversation with a friend, or just to enjoy the beauty of a summer day.

lilies

Spoken by Oberon, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 2, Scene 1

“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight.”

Memorial Day — Thank You

My WWII Christmastime series takes place on the home front, mostly in New York City, with a secondary plot occurring on a farm in Illinois, and a bit of action on an orchard in upstate New York. Though the focus is on family and love and Lillian’s journey as an artist, the impact of the war is felt on every page. The veterans who make an appearance are either recovering in hospital, or are home on leave. Some are getting ready to ship out for the first time.

My father was a WWII vet. He enlisted when he was barely eighteen, joining the Army Air Force as a tail gunner. My siblings and I grew up with war stories that took place decades earlier. Mostly humorous stories about the other young men (boys, really) in his crew. He flew twenty-five missions in 1945 and said he was given the last rites before every mission, and a shot of whiskey on his return. He said when he came home at war’s end, his mother broke into tears — of happiness to be sure, but also because of the wear and tear on his face. He said that ice always clung to his face at the high altitudes, and pulled on the skin below his eyes, giving him the look of a much older man.

But he came back, whole, happy to be alive, eager to begin his life.

Yank

I continue to do research for the last two books in the series, Christmastime 1944 and Christmastime 1945. And though I have my dad’s Yank magazines, a few letters, and his medals, I wish he were still here. There are so many questions I haven’t found answers to in my research, so many questions I still want to ask him. I wish I could get out a pen and paper to take notes as I listen to his stories — and to tell him: Thank you.

Nimitz quote

 

 

Our veterans are our gold, full of courage, sacrifice, and experience. To all who have given so much — thank you.

vets stars blue

 

 

Irises of May

irises railing Canva

I love the irises I come across growing along old fences, or inside a garden, in different stages of unfurling: some still in tightly bound spears with tips of saturated color, others gracefully opened in full display. Like peonies and other spring flowers, their relatively brief  appearance creates a sort of urgency to appreciate them before they disappear with the season.

pix (554)

Irises always remind me of a visit to my hometown many years ago. On a walk through the side streets, I came upon a small house with a startling burst of color alongside a fence. From a thick row of slender green blades bloomed bunches and bunches of irises — tall and elegant, in colors of ethereal blue, dusky mauve, yellow, and combinations of royal purple and apricot, white and watercolor rose, lavender and deep gold. I had to step closer to marvel at the rich array, so casually crowded along the fence.

The owner of the house, an elderly woman with a warm smile, caught me admiring her flowers and offered to show me her garden in the back of the house. It was even more breath-taking — tucked away from view, full of winding brick paths and interesting details set among gorgeous flowers. It must have taken her years to create such a work of art. When I told her how much my mother would love the garden, she graciously welcomed us to stroll through it whenever we wanted, even if she wasn’t at home. I had the feeling that the woman’s generosity and kindness came from the same internal place as her desire to create the beautiful garden — a place that takes pleasure in life and wants to add to the world’s beauty. I brought my mom back later that day, and the delight she took in the garden remains etched in my mind long years since.

I’ve often thought of that May garden, and wondered how many other secret gardens there are in my town, and in the cities I have lived in, and the places I have visited. How many people create works of beauty for the sheer joy and pleasure they bring? How many so freely and graciously offer their efforts to passers-by in patches of flowers, or window boxes trailing with color, or in potted blooms in front of a house? Like the best parts of ourselves, flowers require tending to be coaxed into being, to be nourished with love and sunlight and weeding and watering. The result is a sort of two-way gift that is offered back to the world in a communication beyond words.

pale blue iris

Over the weekend, I took out my terracotta pots and planted them with rose and purple stock, pink geraniums, and scarlet carnations, and set them on my steps just outside the door.

The End of April

2 blossoming trees

Do schoolchildren still sing the song “April Showers”? I think every year since I was a girl, some line, if not the whole song, runs through my mind in April. In an involuntary response, part of the melody just pops into my head when someone laments the rain, or when I come across a patch daffodils or violets.

daffodils for blog

A quick online search shows that the song was written in 1921 (in a period of post-war, pre-Depression optimism), and was introduced by Al Jolson in a Broadway musical. As can only be expected, the song’s  relentless optimism inspired parodies: “When April showers, she never closes the curtain…,” and a skit where a bucket of water is thrown on the far too cheerful performer. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/April_Showers] (Some versions of the song, as with Judy Garland’s, begin with “When” rather than “Though.”)

April showers lyrics

Such sentimentality lingered on in the optimism of the 1960’s schoolroom, at least in small-town Illinois. On an old upright piano, our music teacher played from a repertoire that ranged from war songs to the flowers of spring, and the over-sized class of baby-boomers belted out tunes about violets, caissons rolling along, and flowers that bloom when the fairies sing.

I love the rain of April and the color it brings. On such days the air itself seems tinged with green, so lush are the leaves and grass.

2 bridge

Green, rainy places have always held the most allure for me. On a trip years ago, I fell in love with Ireland and the Lake District in England — and very much want to go back. And a trip to Bangladesh had me gasping at such luxuriant green everywhere.

I actually moved to Seattle when I was young because I had heard that it was beautiful and hilly and green — and rainy. A soft rain was common enough, but dramatic storms with thunder and lightning, like Midwestern storms, were rare. Still, the soft rains kept Seattle blooming in flowers nearly all year long, and it lived up to its reputation as a beautiful, hilly, green city. (They call it the Emerald City and the last time I was there, they even had a yellow brick road to prove it.)

New York, like the Midwest, has seasons of intense green — April through June, for the most part. So when April showers come my way, I take my umbrella and indulge in the wealth of green.

2 post iris

 

2 tulips Columbus Circle